A Letter to a Conservative Friend

An email I sent to a “conservative” friend recently whom I’ve had some charged debates with regarding the current economic crisis. I’m not suggesting I have any answers, but wanted to put this out there in case anyone has anything interesting to add or fix:

If you are interested, let’s do this in the spirit of scientific investigation (not debate teams!), in which we are all looking for the truth together and not defending any territory or tribe. I, for one, will disavow myself of any attachment to the Dem Party (and really never had any) and try hard to distance myself from my own ideologies. And let’s be specific and NOT argue debate philosophy. Rather, let’s find out how far apart we really are on today’s topics. I have an instinct that we’re not nearly as far apart as our rhetoric implies…

btw: I should note for the record that my politics have evolved dramatically over my life from devout Catholic, to apathetic youth, to idealistic communist, to Ayn Rand libertarian (10 years), to die-hard capitalist (10 years!), to whatever I am now (independent, science-based, anti-party, anti-lobby, anti-tribe, pro-rationality, socially liberal, humanitarian, atheist, globalist).


No complex system is perfect and all require constant refinement, refactoring, and the periodic overhaul. Supply-side economics, free market capitalism, and a free society are the foundations of American success. However, in the last 25 years: a) the policies of deregulation w/o a safety net, b) extremely costly wars and bloated military budget, c) Wall Street cronyism, and d) extreme electoral influence by a small number of people, have broken the delicate balance of our once great nation, and have created a national debt, electoral process, and social imbalance (i.e. declining middle class) that are untenable. And the good news is that the changes needed to return to balance are not radical overhauls (e.g. communism), but common sense, practical changes that re-factor a system that has spun out of balance. The basic tenets of free market capitalism and a free, social meritocracy are still the foundation.

Moreover, to suggest that accelerating the current supply-side policies via MORE deregulation and privatization (i.e. dismantling government) without safeguards that protect citizens from industrial side-effects, appears to be based on simple stubborn ideology. Furthermore, blaming government and welfare families, cartooning liberals, chastising social security, and insulting immigrants–an undeniably strong element of the conservative position–has norationalbasis and unless I am mistaken, it’s an insidious tactic to scare conservative voters and create “target enemies” to distract attention from over-stepped, but theoretically sound, policies.

I don’t see why conservative politicians and people can’t agree with the MANY conservative economists who are saying: “We stand by our belief in free markets and supply-side economics and we will not stray far from them, but things have gotten out of control and we need fix it a bit so that we don’t destroy the middle class, have rigged elections, or hurt our citizens with industrial waste. We’re uncomfortable with big government as the solution, but recognize that we need SOME unbiased, science-based authority to protect our citizens and prevent cheating.”

Before you react, keep in mind that I–and the majority of liberals–am not suggesting that we shift towards Communism or any crazy ideas. Rather, we believe STRONGLY in a free market, free expression, capitalist meritocracy, and simply want to address the shortcomings that have developed in recent history. The conservative answer to our current disaster has been: “trust us, we’ll get rid of the big government–which caused these problems–and we’ll make even more money by getting regulations off our back, not pollute or poison anyone, let the “creators” (see Ayn Rand) rule the day, and when WE get rich, YOU get rich!” And as a big fan of free markets and capitalism, I find this argument shallow and frankly stupid.

“Friedman vs. Keynes”

Milton Friedman established some of the core ideas that now embody the current conservative economic position. Specifically, his well-respected theories on the merits of “free markets” and less government intervention are the cornerstone of this debate imo. (Of course, he was not nearly as radical as today’s GOP position, but let’s agree that his ideas are foundational.) But, Mr. Friedman was also a liberal and an early Keynesian, and recognized that there were areas that government (or some authority) needed to balance the free markets and protect everyday people. So, my first question to you is: Do you agree that the deregulation reforms over the last 25 years enacted by Dem and GOP congresses/presidents are a major contributor to our current financial meltdown or not? Before you answer, I’d like to acknowledge that this alone did not cause the crisis; the two wars, gigantic military budget, lowered taxes, and globalization effects are certainly primary factors as well.

Note: I believe that one of our core disagreement is what is the best way to ensurethatbusinesses don’t hurt people, i.e. regulation. The conservative argument has been that free markets regulate themselves because the economic system provides harsh feedback loops that discourage bad behavior and reward good behavior. I fundamentally AGREE that this is the best policy IFF its effective! However, over the last 25 years, the Dems and GOP have executed a dramatic systematic deregulation policy, BUT did not ensure that there were effective industry-based self-regulation policies in place. So, to be 100% clear, I am strongly attracted to the idea of self-regulation and trusting the markets, but it seems apparent to me that self-regulation (and even our current government regulation) has become a big joke. A good, albeit old, example imo is cigarettes: where was the self-regulation or self-correcting markets in this case?

OTHER TOPICS WORTH EXPLORING: Influence of “lobby” groups on the electoral process, redistricting and voter fraud, immigration.